ON THE BALL: All saw Cougars crash coming
In this week’s edition of On The Ball, NATION basketball writer Justin Marville reviews the first round of the Premier League and sees how it matches up with his pre-season predictions.
SO YOU WIN SOME and you lose some.
No I’m not referring to Sonics’ up and down season, but rather my equally hit-or-miss pre-season predictions that would look downright prophetic right about now had I merely switched Station Hill’s storyline (most disappointing) with that of Warrens (most surprising).
But even Peter Wickham and Nostradamus would have problems calling a wild season like this one that has been so surprising to the point where the fans have been hitting more treys than the actual players.
I mean who could’ve seen Cougars’ big implosion coming amidst the sudden departures of Terrence Roach and head coach Oliver Nicholas?
Oh yeah, I did. Well, me and the rest of local basketball really.
STORY WORTH WATCHING: Cougars’ implosion (my pick: Cougars’ impending implosion)
It took just two games before this one came to life like Pinocchio, with Cougars dropping the unlikeliest of games to the now last-placed Challengers.
Worse yet, the signs of dissention were there from the very first game where quarrelling, bickering and pouting first rose to the surface despite the team beating Warriors by 26 points.
What ensued was a well-documented slide of epic proportions that saw one of the pre-season favourites lose four of the next five games while dealing with the upheaval brought on by offseason acquisitions Nicholas and Roach.
But that early season disaster may well prove to be a blessing, evidenced by Cougars’ recent two-game streak, as their departures could serve to bring the side closer together for the home stretch.
QUESTIONABLE OFFSEASON ACQUISITION:
Terrence Roach (my pick: Terrence Roach)
Now could this one really have been any easier?
Now to think about it
I should’ve thrown in Nicholas and scored double points, but from the onset it was clear that Roach and the men of Hothersal were going to be anything but a match made in heaven.
A ball-dominant point guard running the offence for a team that thrives getting up and down in transition and already has a ton of proven scorers? Yeah, what could go wrong there?
It’s not as if we’re talking about Mother Teresa here either, as ole Roach has either contentiously played or talked his way out of Warriors, DC United and St John’s – all teams expected to contend for titles.
Maybe Roach will finally turn around his situation. Or maybe teams will finally learn to stay away.
BIGGEST STORYLINE: Pinelands’ super team (my pick: Pinelands’ super team)
Well, as we’re on the stuff I got right, let’s just continue on this path of self-aggrandising back-patting.
Sure they haven’t been everything we expected, however, Pinelands certainly have been close enough while leading the league in wins, points scored and point differential along with style points.
For good measure they beat rivals LSC too, putting on a defensive performance for the ages that has since left the defending champs reeling.
Of course, one could only hope for a prolific high-flying unit that puts up points in the 90s when the likes of Ramon Simmons, Junior Moore and Halley Franklyn join forces with Jeremy Gill, Charles Vanderpool and Rico Thorpe on a squad which is two players deep at every single position.
But there’s a whole second round still to come, and no matter what happens these super friends will be judged on what they do in the postseason. And against a certain Husbands team.
So far so good.
BIGGEST OFFSEASON ADDITION: Junior Moore (my pick: Pearson Griffith)
Yeah, this is where it all starts to go downhill for me in terms of pre-season prophecy.
If by biggest we meant size, then sure, Griffith’s pick is as easy as they come. But between injuries and a lack of motivation, the return of the mammoth national centre just hasn’t panned out the way Warrens intended.
What has worked, though, and even better than anticipated, has been Moore’s inclusion to a frontline that has dominated all in sight.
In terms of pure rebounding alone, Moore, who ranks second (13.5) in that category, has been a pure menace while cleaning up virtually every missed shot and keeping opposing offences to one shot and out at the other end.
However, those boards have led to a ton of easy second-chance points for the national forward, who also is seventh in scoring (16.8) on the league’s highest scoring outfit.
Furthermore, his continual presence in the paint has left Vanderpool (20.3 ppg) and Gill (18.8 ppg) in a lot more one-on-one situations than opposing defences would care for.
BIGGEST OFFSEASON LOSS: Rahiim Gibbons (my pick: Rahiim Gibbons)
You really didn’t think I would miss the chance for one more pat on the back now did you?
Just like how St John’s couldn’t expect to be a serious contender without finding a suitable replacement for Gibbons at the point.
And in case you don’t think his absence has had a major effect on Sonics’ woes then take a quick lok at St John’s (73 ppg) significant six-point drop off (79.2) from last year’s near elite offence.
Put that on Simmons’ exit all you want, but just remember it’s much easier to make do without a three-point gunner than it is to replace a top-level floor general who can also space the floor and readily create his own offence.
Still not sold? Then ask Akeem Marsh how life is in a team that currently has only two other real scoring threats
(Stefan Clarke, Romaine Lovell) once it has to play half-court ball.
Especially when that ball may or may not cross the half.
MOST SURPRISING TEAM: Station Hill Cavaliers (my pick: Warrens)
File this under the folder of “things I definitely didn’t see coming”.
This is so surprising that I’m still surprised all now, even though I shouldn’t be considering the Cavs’ unifying play and commitment to each other.
Honestly, I just couldn’t see how a cast without a proven scorer or No.1 option was going to get it done offensively for an entire season, but the “scoring by committee” plan has worked thus far.
The collective inexperience also looked a bit problematic from afar; however, the young guns have done well to hold their own while using their collective speed and athleticism to muck things up at the other end when they apply full court defensive pressure.
Just how far this plan will go is still left to be seen once the push for the play-offs gets real, but I can tell you it already has gone farther than most expected.
BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT: Warrens (my pick: Station Hill Cavaliers)
Well isn’t this irony for you.
Considering how you look at it, Warrens may very well still be in play for most surprising team, considering how surprisingly bad they’ve been at the defensive end.
And that’s the one side of the ball everyone figured Warrens should be good on following the return of the league’s best rim protector and shot changer.
But nothing has gone to plan for a Warrens team that has seen their head coach suspended for the rest of the season while key players have been in and out of the line-up due to a host of reasons.
There’s still time to get things turned around, though, and with all their best players available, Warrens are still a team to take seriously.
Just ask LSC.